Lowcountry Cuisine refers to coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia. Maybe the best known Lowcountry chef is Sean Brock, chef at McCrady’s and Husk restaurants. The New Yorker profiled Brock in 2011 in the story “True Grits” and he published his first cookbook this year, “Heritage“.
Brock focuses on reviving traditional recipes starting with the ingredients – helping bring back heirloom items like sea island red peas, benne, einkorn, and antebellum grits. Many of these ingredients comes from Glenn Roberts founder of the heirloom grain company Anson Mills along with local farmers and fishermen.
Now, Sean Brock doesn’t stick just with traditional recipes step for step – he throws in a healthy dose of his own creativity. I’ve opened the book and random and the first recipes I come to are “Flounder Crudo with Rhubarb Milk, Buttermilk, Radishes and Sea Beans” or “Foie Gras with Country Ham, Strawberry-Meyer Lemon Jam, and Heirloom Johnnycakes.”
I too am taking some creative license with the food (the central Vermont supply of affordable crawfish is, after all, limited). Here are notes on some of the dishes on this week’s takeout menu:
Hoppin John Salad & Grits Croutons: Black eyed peas over a kale salad with citrus vinaigrette. The grits croutons are just what they sound like – grits in cubes with crispy outsides. After the success of fried dough croutons last week on the county fair menu, I’ve decided that small doses of unhealthy item on top of salad is the best indulgence. Reheating Notes: If you’d like the grits warm (which would be delicious) you can revive them in a hot skillet with some butter or bacon grease, or put in the oven.
Gumbo Z’Herbes, Corn Flour Dumplings, Spiced Peanuts: Gumbo Z’Herbes is technically more New Orleans than South Carolina, but gumbos are part of Lowcountry cooking and this vegetarian gumbo is delicious. Many dark leafy greens go into a pot and come out scrumptious. Spiced peanuts are the nod to Georgia. Although I didn’t find a way to work it into this particular menu, peanut salsa is not to be missed. Far more than it seems from the recipe, which is posted here. Reheating Notes: Reheat gumbo and dumplings slowly in a saucepan.
Charleston Red Rice Waffles & Gazpacho: I received a reviewer’s copy a while back for the cookbook Will It Waffle? It sounds gimmicky, it is gimmicky, but many things do taste better as waffles. I’m including rice in that. Crispy on the outside rice cakes. To make this an homage to Charleston Red Rice – rice cooked with tomatoes and bacon – these waffles come with a tomato-bacon gravy. Tomato-bacon gravy is traditional in its own right, but usually over biscuits. Reheating Notes: To stay crispy on the outside, it’s ideal to pop these waffles in a toaster oven or regular oven.
Ploughman’s Dinner: A variation on this tasted so good on a previous menu (here’s a note on it) that it’s back. We have fresh baked whole wheat bread with watermelon rind mostarda (similar to pickles), pounded cheese (like a grown up cheese ball), and “Georgia” hummus (peanut butter instead of tahini).
Farrotto – Farro risotto is a Sean Brock recipe, using farro (an ancient grain related to wheat) in place of rice. Can be ordered vegetarian.
Watermelon Cake – We will call this “in which Helen learns why people use watermelon flavoring instead of cooking down juice from a whole watermelon into syrup”. Because watermelon just isn’t a very strong flavored fruit. But I was determined to start with a whole watermelon and end up with cake.
Here’s what we’ve got: I cooked down a watermelon’s worth of juice with sugar into a thick caramel syrup, baked it into cake, made vanilla-cream frosting, mixed the cake into the frosting, and turned that into cake bon bons (for structural reasons). I also soaked diced papaya in watermelon syrup (because papaya looks sort of like watermelon) added chocolate chips and baked that into a standard golden cake with lemon glaze. Two desserts to choose from.
Melon-Mint-Lime Spritzers: These drinks taste particularly good with a splash of cream – approximating a more refreshing egg cream (traditionally soda water, milk, chocolate syrup).